My wife Mollie and I got engaged outside the BMMF (Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship) guest house in Landour on 29 June 1953. For nearly half a century we have had Interserve friends.
And we have served with, prayed for, and still support what we view as a wonderful forward looking mission team.
The 1966 conference brought into focus some major changes in the vision of evangelical missions. New Bottles describes how Interserve became truly international by recruiting partners from India, Korea, and other "mission fields." . We recognized the new policy of accepting partners who would work in their professions as tentmakers, thus earning some or all of their support. We became servants of the national churches in many areas of South Asia. These and other changes now seem commonplace, but at that time they seemed radical, and they were not easily accepted by our supporters.
A third reason is that information about our world mission is quickly out of print. By putting this historical document on a web site it is made available to be copied in digital form and studied freely anywhere in the world.
This edition has some minor corrections, and a few sections have been deleted where the events of the past thirty years have made them irrelevant.
I have also pruned the preachiness of my writing, and have left the
facts to speak for themselves.
Founded in 1852, BMMF (now called Interserve) is apparently the oldest of the interdenominational missionary societies. It is also surprisingly new.
The first men joined the Fellowship in 1952 after a century of exclusively women's work. Only in 1964 did BMMF become international with independent councils or boards in the sending countries, each responsible for their own missionaries.
The problem is to remain a closely united fellowship, and yet break out into the newer types of work required for the twentieth century. Jesus Christ had foreseen and clearly stated the problem. New wine cannot be contained in old wineskins. Every new work of the Holy Spirit in each generation needs new forms of expression and organization. On the other hand, Jesus Christ explained that the purpose of new wine is to mature, and those who appreciate the fragrance of the old inevitably find the new unpalatable (Luke 5:37-39). The fact is that the maturity of the old and the freshness of the new are both necessary. Happy is the church or mission that can appreciate the new and the old, and give them their place without confusion.
At previous United Conferences held in 1951, 1954, 1958 and 1962, new wineskins were provided. There came a place for men to exercise their gifts alongside the zenana (women's) work. BMMF cooperated in the United Mission to Nepal, and found itself in a pioneer situation in a new language area with unexpected colleagues from other missions and other countries. Older hospitals in Nasik and Patna closed as doctors and nurses moved into the new work. In 1958 Dr. Jock Anderson launched a mobile caravan hospital project to reach a tribe in the Sindh area of Pakistan. After the 1962 Conference BMMF expanded into student work with the Union of Evangelical Students of India (Indian Inter-Varsity), work among nurses in government hospitals, and a Christian writers' training center. A completely new tentmakers' plan enables those called to earn their own living, as Paul sometimes did, to function as members of our mission team.
On March 16 some of the delegates from home boards began arriving for the 1966 conference. Paul and Rosalind Broomhall had already been in India for two months doing their field work as they visited many of our missionaries in India and Nepal. As Chairman of the London Council, with many years of experience of BMMF at home and on the field, Paul Broomhall was elected chairman. Dr. Mariano di Gangi, successor to Dr. Barnhouse at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, and Chairman of United States BMMF, came for his first visit to the field and found himself dodging riots in Ludhiana. Harold McCracken, Chairman of Australian BMMF, brought his gifts as a lawyer and his experience as Chairman of Australian IVF to help in many legal and administrative problems.
Also representing Australia came Cyril Smith, who wasted no time collecting pictures and tape recordings to meet the demands for BMMF information in New South Wales. Bishop Jack Dain had been God's instrument from 1947 to 1959 in fashioning BMMF for its new role. Now he came back to Landour rich with the added experience of missionary leadership for the Australian Church Missionary Society in Africa, Asia and South America. Dr. and Mrs. Bob Stephens came at short notice to represent Canada. They had served as missionaries in the Congo and now brought their medical missionary experience to BMMF. From New Zealand came Mr. and Mrs Tom Haughey, and as an architect he rightly insisted that we should have a clear BMMF policy before we pressed ahead into unplanned growth.
The newest home council is in Scotland, and it was a joy to have the representation of Dr. Charles Anderson, brother of Dr. Winifred Anderson of Nepal, and his wife, who are both very active in Christian work in Glasgow.
Six of the home representatives at the conference had many years of experience in India. Ron Hills (Britain) and Bob Brow (Canada) had been in the Indian Army, and had also served as missionaries. Dr. Frank Kline (West Coast, U.S.A.), had been twenty-five years in India and was the first Principal of the Union Biblical Seminary, Yeotmal, where BMMF cooperates.
Ronald Watson (Britain) served most of his life as an engineer with the Indian Railways. Fred hill, for many years a businessman in India and retired in Australia, was back with his wife Gwen, as a relief Pastor at Carey Baptist Church, Calcutta. To bring the challenge of the countries in the Middle East, we invited Dr. Bob Young of American University, Beirut, who made a valuable contribution to our thinking.
We also had four of our Indian colleagues among the 40 missionary representatives from our various fields. Mr. and Mrs. Kamlakar Hanbarhatty are our newest missionaries. As a retired judge, he is already proving invaluable in many legal matters, and Hannah, his wife is known all over India as Secretary for the women's work of the Bible Society of India.
Nancy Basaviah is Principal of the school of the BMMF orphanage at Sholapur, and Mariamma Chacko is very effective in an evangelistic ministry among nurses across North India. We were joined by Rev. Subodh Sahu, a very winsome Indian evangelist.
It was evident that what was needed was a booklet explaining BMMF. What are we? How and whom do we recruit? If we are a faith mission, whose faith is involved, and where? How do missionaries from rich and poor countries serve together in one fellowship? Do missionaries exist for BMMF, or does BMMF exist to enable missionaries to exercise their gifts? Could we still insist on candidates making an open offer for possible service anywhere and in any kind of work? As a missionary fellowship are we to be under, alongside, over, or separate from national churches? If theologians at home tell us that God is dead, and Hindu philosophers suggest that all religions are the same, what is meant by the word Bible' in our name? Are we a medical mission and what, if any, institutions do we run? How can we grow and yet remain a fellowship? These were some of the questions raised, and the Holy Spirit brought us to see some answers with remarkable unanimity.
We believe that the Bible is God's Word. We may respect those who have doubts concerning the Bible as the authoritative inspired Word of God, but if the Bible is unreliable, then BMMF has been an expensive mistake.
Holding it to be reliable, we continue to obey and preach its message wherever God calls us to serve Him.
Having accepted and submitted to the Bible as our authority in all matters of faith and action, we work with those of many denominational backgrounds who think as we do. Since our beginning in 1852 we have always been interdenominational. In common with many others, we hold to the facts concerning the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit which Christians declare in the Apostles' and Nicene Creeds. Jesus Christ is fully God in the unity of the Trinity. He is fully man in the incarnation. He has completely and finally paid man's debt on the cross, and triumphed over death and hell in the resurrection. Until his return we can have the fulness of the Holy Spirit to do greater works than He did (John 14:12). Having accepted the authority of the Bible, we can agree to differ on such secondary matters as the exact sequence of events in His coming, the time and method of baptism, and the function of bishops and deacons in local churches. On these matters we each have opinions, but they do not affect our preaching of Christ or our life in the Holy Spirit.
The fact that BMMF is committed to the Bible forces us to keep testing our recruitment and our work by those standards. We expect our missionaries to have adequate Bible knowledge. Usually this involves at least two years of Biblical or theological training, though we recognize that some may more than meet this standard of preparation through their Christian work and private study. We would hate to reject a potential Billy Graham because he had not had two years of formal training. More important than the length of training is the need to have grappled with the problems of the Bible in the light of the hard questions being asked today. We also recognize that every furlough missionaries need time to re-equip themselves for the battle of the mind.
As a missionary fellowship we want to continue placing specialists to assist the national churches in every good work, but it was also decided to pursue our evangelistic priority. Bruce Nicholls said: "The task of the missionary is not just to win converts but to encourage the churches to become spearheads for evangelism. Five hundred vital churches would do more to bring Christ to the non-Christian world than 5,000 foreign missionaries fully engaged in evangelism." To encourage this vital thrust both in our home countries and on the field Dennis Clark was appointed as Director of Evangelism.
The Bible also needs to be taught. "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:19-20). Since the last two United Conferences, BMMF has been invited to cooperate in Bible training work. The Nicholls, the Kemps and Alexa Cameron serve on the staff of the Union Biblical Seminary, Yeotmal.
Joan Watson teaches at the Women's Union Bible School and the Arloffs at the Oriental Missionary Society Seminary, both in Allahabad. Jean Mullinger and Vivienne Stacey are on the staff of the United Bible Training Centre in Gujranwala, Pakistan. Four of our missionaries are on loan to the Union of Evangelical Students of India and the Nurses' Christian Fellowship, but more will be needed for student work, camp and conference ministry, and correspondence courses.
We have only to list these urgent requirements for South Asia to realize that these are the very people so desperately needed everywhere. We belong to one Church in one world. If BMMF expects to recruit what the churches at home most need, the churches have a right to expect something from BMMF.
Our missionaries on furlough must so minister in the power of the Spirit that they give our home churches more than they take. If home churches are hard pressed by the inroads of eastern religions, we must be willing to help them. As we shall see in the next chapter, mission is not just something that goes on overseas, it is the very life-blood of the Church.
M for Medical? Yes, because Jesus Christ did not just preach the Gospel.
He healed lepers, gave sight to the blind, restored the incurable. He obviously cared for people. How can we engage in the ministry of medicine in developing countries today. At the 1966 United Conference the medical committee representing doctors, nurses and para-medical personnel, made this policy statement : "Resolved that BMMF concentrate on the following types of medical work :
1. The training of national doctors, nurses and technicians.
2. Pioneer medical work to serve as a spearhead for the Gospel.
3. Pastoral and evangelistic work among students and nurses.
4. 'Tentmaking,' in which professional people may enter government and private practice, earning part of all of their support, whether on a short-term or career basis.
BMMF will therefore continue to cooperate in the Ludhiana Christian Medical College and any other training centers where our missionaries can make an effective contribution. In Nepal, on the other hand we have sent missionaries into rough pioneer situations to establish the first hospitals.
Dr. Pam Dodson had a five-day trek from the capital to her almost inaccessible outpost in Eastern Nepal. In West Pakistan our mobile hospital seemed to be the only way to come alongside tribal people. In the next four-year period we expect that medical practice may give us access to other closed lands. Margaret Hall, has had the privilege of launching the Nurses' Christian Fellowship in an area of 250 million people. Dr. Ray Windsor has used his specialist heart surgery qualifications to work in the government Open Heart Unit in Chandigarh.
In its widest and best sense, healing must inevitably be linked with education. Public health, mental health, the social health of our big cities, the training needed for men and women to glorify God - all these are inseparable from the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. We could change our name to Bible, Medical, Educational, Social (etc. etc.) Missionary Fellowship, but that would be even more difficult to say (our name was changed later to Interserve). It is simpler to explain that BMMF missionaries give their hands and heart and minds for Jesus Christ to use in whatever ways He thinks best.
The first BMMF missionaries came to India over a hundred years ago determined to take the Gospel to women behind the purdah (the veil or screen). As they visited in homes, they found women who were illiterate, disease-ridden and bound by superstition. In the name of Jesus Christ it was impossible to deny these women and their children the opportunity to read the Bible in their own language, and so schools were founded. Those missionaries started the first blind school in India, and it is still in existence. In this way BMMF institutions began, and eternity alone will fully record the profound impact they have made on the social life of India.
It is one of the first countries, incidentally, to have a woman as Prime Minister.
At the United Conference BMMF educational institutions were again reviewed.
The high schools each have their own governing boards which could continue if missionaries had to withdraw. Queen Mary High School in Bombay with its 1200 students from influential homes in the city is more than self-supporting. But now there are many new opportunities open to us for work in English medium education. At the university level John Maindonald has been teaching mathematics at Murray College in Sialkot. During the past four-year period one BMMF couple have been teaching at Wynberg Allen School in Mussoorie. Dr. Bob Young, from American University in Beirut, challenged us with the large number of teaching posts open in countries where missionary societies cannot work without restrictions. He mentioned an immediate vacancy for a mathematics teacher in Tarsus, Paul's home town 1900 years ago !
We wondered why among some people the Gospel has made virtually no impact for decades, whereas among others the Church spreads like wildfire. We can never tell when a previously hard, barren area will suddenly begin to respond spiritually. In the healing of the nations God has His times, and we may need to wait for the transformations we long to see. Where churches show signs of growth, we must do all we can to help. In other areas we may need to serve and pray and maintain a foothold until God gives the increase.
He cannot be hurried, nor can the Gospel be processed, to give guaranteed instant results.
What is a missionary? What is a missionary society? Fifty years ago it would have been comparatively easy to give an answer. We would have defined a missionary as someone who leaves a Christian country to go abroad to preach to those who have never heard of Christ. And missionaries make their career with a missionary society which provides the funds for them to do their work. But these days we have only to read such a pat answer to realize how outdated it is.
In the first place we can no longer think of 'Christian' sending countries.
We have pagans at home, and some of our churches even wonder if a dead God may not need to be revived by twentieth-century fertility cults. There is a higher proportion of people attending church in many parts of Africa, or on the Assam borders of India, or in the high Andes of South America than around the BMMF offices in London. In the so-called non-Christian countries there are now large self-governing churches. In terms of numbers the Church in India is far bigger than the Church in Canada or Australia.
To bring order out of this 'mission' and 'missionary' confusion, Paul's illustration from the human body may help us. The Church is the body of Christ. Just as the body is made up of millions of cells, so individual Christians make up the Church. Cells have many different functions, so we should not be surprised if Christians are as different from one another as eye cells differ from bone cells, and skin tissue from liver.
To take the illustration further there is a distinction between the relatively fixed parts of the body, such as bones and muscles, and the bloodstream which flows all through the body. In the same way we can distinguish local churches and institutions, which have an essentially local function, and missions which have a more mobile ministry in extending and nourishing the body as a whole. We can therefore define a missionary as a Christian who is called into the bloodstream. Instead of having a merely localized function he or she is sent to minister to the needs of other churches, to bring life to weak and diseased parts of the body, to act like a hormone stimulating new forms of growth.
This illustration helps to explain some of the otherwise puzzling characteristics of a missionary fellowship like the BMMF. In the first place the missionaries are entirely the product of the sending churches, just as the red and white blood cells and hormones are sent out by the marrow and the glands. We can be interdenominational as we recognize the various groupings of cells which have become the many denominations of the worldwide Church. As bloodstream it is not our function to interfere in their internal organization. National churches have a right to be independent and to group themselves in any way which may suit their culture or temperament. They are free to take as little or as much of what the bloodstream brings, without in any way being dictated to by a missionary society.
The illustration also makes clear that being a missionary has nothing to do with crossing an ocean, or with Christian or non-Christian lands. Wherever the Body of Christ is, and is to extend, there the bloodstream is needed.
BMMF, for example, has so far concentrated on bringing nourishment and healing from countries in the West and 'down under' to the Indian subcontinent. If however, we find that God is dead to churches in Britain or the United States, we shall inevitably find some of our missionaries engaged in meeting the crisis there, since the Body is one all over the world.
We can also state categorically that whether a Christian is basically 'local church,' or basically 'bloodstream,' the question of earning or not earning a living has no relevance. Every Christian has one or more spiritual gifts, and these gifts must be exercised whether or not the person is paid to do so. Paul exercised his spiritual gifts as leader of a mission team regardless of whether or not his supporting churches were able to send him money. Similarly a modern missionary may go back and forth into 'tentmaking' as the situation demands.
In BMMF the structure that has evolved combines the autonomy of home boards to send out missionaries with the responsibility of the Field Council in each area to supervise and care for them. And the principle is that each missionary should have as much freedom as possible to express and follow his or her own calling. This means that BMMF exists to enable missionaries and home supporters to exercise their spiritual gifts better within the Fellowship than in isolation.
"Resolved that BMMF as an International Fellowship may recruit missionaries of any national or racial background . . . All are called into one common fellowship. We also accept the unanimous recommendation which calls for parity of allowances" (1966 Conference minutes). This vision sounds simple, but we need to remember the problems of an International mission team like ours. Five dead bodies laid out in a morgue have no problem maintaining their unity. Bring them alive, however, and problems of unity arise. That is why live churches often find it harder to remain united than dead ones.
This is also why in each place where the variety of spiritual gifts is mentioned (Romans 12:3-10, 1 Corinthians 12 and 13, Ephesians 4:1-16) Paul has to stress the need for unity.
If it is hard to maintain unity in a live local church, where Christians live near each other, how much harder it is in a missionary fellowship working all over South Asia. And each missionary not only has varying spiritual gifts but a passion to exercise them, and that is usually combined with habits of leadership and decisive action. In recent years the problem has been increased by the recruitment of those from different nationalities.
One solution was for all to agree to conform to English norms of behaviour, which is what our Canadian and Indian missionaries at first valiantly tried to do. But how do we give equal place to American efficiency, Japanese politeness, Irish frankness, Indian hospitality, Australian informality, and English traditions and reserve?
The problem is further complicated by different standards of living. Up to the present all BMMF missionaries have had equal field allowances. A heart surgeon has the same monthly salary as a nurse. At the conference the question of Indian members of the fellowship was discussed. In government service an Indian woman doctor can earn three times what she would receive on a missionary allowance. On the other hand, an Indian village evangelist, with four children, would immediately be paid at least four times what a village pastor receives. We decided to form an Indian Council to decide how many and what kinds of missionaries they can recruit. It was stipulated, however, that all recruits, from whatever country, must come in on the same salary scales and status as all other missionaries. That is not an easy solution.
We discussed the question of how people are called into this Fellowship.
Some people apply to a mission board with half a dozen other possibilities in mind. Imagine a fellow proposing to several girls at once in the hope that one might turn out to be his life-partner! Reasonably, BMMF likes to know and be known before making too many plans. If on the other hand, a candidate has been a prayer partner for several years, has attended BMMF conferences and made friends with our missionaries, knows about the work and has given sacrificially, the situation is usually much clearer.
We also believe in the faith of the sending boards with regard to finance.
They are responsible for supporting each missionary they send, and they must trust God to provide for this. BMMF claims to have paid the allowances of its missionaries punctually and in full. If the time should ever come when a home boards cannot fulfil their commitment, we must face the fact that missionaries might need to be withdrawn from the field. That is a very upsetting conclusion.
At first sight prayer support might seem a very cold, impersonal, distant thing. But in fact those who have learned to pray find that they can enter right into a situation, and influence those who are involved thousands of miles away. Some prayer supporters have a better understanding of the real issues than those in the heat of the battle. If one could look at BMMF from heaven's point of view, one would probably find that the permanent values are all bound up in the prayer life of its missionaries and their supporters at home.
We have left the most important aspect of fellowship to the end. Our fellowship is first and foremost with Jesus Christ. We rejoice in Him as Saviour, we walk with Him as friends, we are part of His royal family, we obey Him as Lord. Every day we discuss the day's plans with Him, we bring every obstacle and difficulty for His solution and He gives us encouragement to persevere.
God is not primarily interested in organizations, or buildings, or money, or even churches or missionary societies. These are means to an end, and His end is always people. Which women and men are willing to serve God anywhere and possibly in South Asia? Which of these are obviously called into our Fellowship? How many can we expect? The 1962 United Conference asked for 45 new missionaries, and 48 actually arrived on the field by March 1966.
The 1966 conference asked for 75 new missionaries in the next four years.
Why did we not ask for more? If the need is so great, would not 100 or 150 be a more realistic figure? The answer is that every form of life has its own growth rate. Plants and babies and missionary societies all need time to develop. If growth is too fast, sickness, malformations, or total structural failure may result.
The first obvious limitation is finance. If every supporter tithed, and gave one tenth of his or her tithe to BMMF, we would need at least 100 new supporters for every missionary. A couple would need 200, plus more for every child. Much harder to discern is the prayer support that is needed.
Sending missionaries without prayer support does more harm than good.
Average missionaries with faithful supporters do surprisingly great things for God, but individualists for whom nobody prays are a liability. If too many missionaries are sent from a limited group of praying people, prayer support becomes too thin, and spiritual failure is inevitably round the corner.
On the field the growth rate is limited by an insufficient number of leaders who can both give vision, and have the inclination for genuine pastoral care, concern for family needs, and maintaining the unity of the Spirit among strong willed people. This work has so far been done almost singlehanded by Alan Norrish, now appointed International Secretary. Eric Lowe as the new Field Secretary is now carrying some of this load. Those who can give such missionary leadership are rare, so there is an obvious limitation on the rate of expansion without overstraining our resources.
We will need other leaders who know how to bring us to agreed decisions as in the first council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:6-28).
Now assuming that the 75 missionaries we have asked for start coming forward, how will they be placed? Some will have been recruited for urgent specialist tasks, and the problem will be to make sure that they get the opportunity for language study. Long term usefulness depends on the language which is key to the hearts of people. Missionary mothers with children also need the language to chat with neighbours, bargain in the bazaar, and enjoy the conversation in a third class railway compartment.
Without that the country of their adoption will never be home.
Some challenges to expansion called for further study. Several felt that a Fellowship like ours could make a vital contribution in the great Muslim world to the west of India. Others wondered if we were not already stretched too far. We trust the Holy Spirit to make His will clear in the next few months. The Holy Spirit will also speak through individual missionaries. Sometimes the vision of one person influences the whole future of a mission team, as it did in the case of Paul and his team. But all of our missionaries are encouraged to present whatever new challenges they receive for consideration by the Fellowship. And it would be a sad day if ever the opinion of the newest, or the oldest, of our missionaries was ignored in our field committees.
The 1966 United Conference was a re-commissioning of the ship for its next journey. The main purpose of the voyage is clear, but the crew will have many decisions to make on the way. As new continents are sighted, or the fortunes of war change, our policies may need to be amended. We expect the pirates and the storms, and often the ship will seem to be in danger. But God is with us, and the rewards are as great as the risks of the journey.